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Spotlight on Tech: General Fusion

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In this Spotlight on Tech feature, we take a look at Burnaby company General Fusion, who are developing the world’s first fusion power plant based on commercially viable technology. Fusion is a clean, safe, abundant and on-demand form of energy that, when harnessed, could provide a nearly unlimited source of power with zero CO2 emissions. Backed by leading venture capital firms, the company is pursuing the fastest, most practical path to commercial fusion energy.

We spoke to Tim Howard, Communications Manager at General Fusion about the amazing projects they’re working on, career opportunities, and what life at General Fusion is like!

Describe your most recent achievement, milestone, reason for bragging rights

In the past few years General Fusion has made major progress in its plasma injector program, which provides the fuel for a fusion power plant and is one of the most difficult parts of the process. To create fusion, we need to make a plasma (ionized hydrogen gas) and hold it steady while it is compressed, which drives up its temperature until the plasma fuses and releases energy (you can see an infographic of the process here).

We’re now measuring pre-compression temperatures of 5 million degrees Celsius, and the plasma are long lived enough that we’re shifting our focus improving the compression system. We’re the first to attempt this approach to fusion, so it’s entirely new research with big implications for making fusion a commercially viable source of energy.

What is your company goal for the coming year?
We’re building on those big advancements we made in plasma technology this past year and are now refining our compression process, which is already showing great results. The next step is to build an integrated prototype, which brings together both plasma formation and compression. We’re working on the design of that now, and expect it will be operating in the next three to five years.

As part of this, we’re currently constructing a new large scale plasma injector, which will be about the size of a jumbo jet engine and on the scale of what would be used in a fusion power plant. At the end of 2016 we doubled our lab space, so this injector is being built in the new facility.

How many employees currently work at your company?
General Fusion currently employs 65 staff, primarily in science and engineering roles.

What’s the culture like at General Fusion?
Everyone here wants to make a difference to the world, and is driven by a desire to build something that really matters. General Fusion has grown from fairly humble beginnings to become a cutting edge research facility, but there’s still this pragmatic mindset that is at the core of what we do. We’re building things that are entirely new to the world (like the world’s biggest plasma injectors), and engineers, scientists and machinists work side by side to rapidly iterate designs and overcome problems.

It’s also an active and outgoing team. Morning coffee rides are as much part of the culture as the lunchtime conversations that inevitably require a whiteboard – it can be hard to find space in our bike room.

What does your leadership team (and company as a whole) do to support/grow that culture?
The pace is fast, the teams are small and agile, and people have full responsibility for finding ways to make their part of a project work. That’s a big part of the culture here, and it’s one of the things that enables a team of smart, dedicated people to take on such a massive challenge. We’re not the sort of tech company where you find foosball tables and beanbags, but we still have plenty of social events and a lot of people get together on weekends to bike or ski. There’s a pretty serious homebrew scene too.

What kinds of roles are you hiring for? 
We’re always looking for the world’s best talent in fields including plasma physics, computer simulation and data analytics, in addition to R&D engineers and technicians. The careers page on our website is the best place to find the latest openings. We also have an extensive co-op student program.

What kinds of people are you looking for?
At the end of the day we want to build the world’s first commercial fusion power plant, so the sort of people we tend to attract have a mix of theoretical and hands-on skills. We look for people that take initiative and are willing to get their hands dirty. While there’s some seriously smart people here (a substantial number of our staff have PhDs or MBAs), everyone is surprisingly down to earth.

When your employees talk about your company, what do they brag about?
It’s hard not to get excited about the end goal here – commercially available fusion energy will transform the way the world tackles climate change, makes electricity available to improve standards of living, and much more – it will be a game changer. What makes it a great place to work on a daily basis is that there’s lots of variety in the work. Compared to a typical engineering company where you might be doing the same sort of thing day after day, here a lot of our work is experimental – we’re effectively building a star in a bottle. Because much of the work is in completely new areas of research, there are lots of opportunities to extend yourself and learn on the job.

Learn more about General Fusion and their technology
Check out their job postings
LinkedIn | General Fusion
Twitter | @GeneralFusion
Facebook | General Fusion
Instagram | @GeneralFusion

 

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